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Call to action: RNs align to debunk stereotypes and promote nursing to men

Monday June 18, 2012
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When Patrick Coonan, RN, EdD, NEA-BC, FACHE, introduces himself as the dean of the Adelphi University School of Nursing in New York, he often is asked, “Are you a nurse?”

He doubts a female dean of a nursing school would have to field the same question.
Nationally, just 6.6% of RNs are men, according to a May 2011 fact sheet from the American Nurses Association. But nursing is an emerging field for men. In California, for example, the percentage of men who are nursing professionals rose to 14.4% in 2008 from 10.5% in 2006, according to a California Board of Registered Nursing survey of RNs in 2008. Men accounted for more than 18% of nurses less than 45 years old, the data showed.

The American Assembly for Men in Nursing wants to see those increases continue through its “20 x 20: Choose Nursing” program, which aims to have 20% male enrollment in U.S. nursing schools by 2020. The initiative came about after the release of the 2010 Future of Nursing report, said AAMN President William Lecher, RN, MS, MBA, NE-BC. The report, commissioned by the Institute of Medicine and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, called for changes in nursing education and nursing practice to meet healthcare needs in the future. The recommendations included dramatically increasing racial, ethnic and gender diversity in the profession.

Lecher and two board members were prepared with the “20 x 20” plan for discussing the FON report at the November 2010 Future of Nursing’s National Summit on Advancing Health through Nursing. “We felt we needed to go into that meeting with something to say,” he said. “What about gender diversity? How much should it change and when should it change?”

“We won’t be able to address the nursing shortage that’s looming before us” without addressing gender, added Bob Patterson, RN, MSN, administrative director of the California Institute for Nursing & Health Care in Oakland.

Support systems

Patterson, an AAMN board member, co-produced a nine-minute video called “Men in Nursing,” aimed at refuting stereotypes and sharing the stories of male nurses with various backgrounds. The video features a former bartender, a motorcycle rider and a man who met his wife while he worked as a nurse.

The video debuted in April 2009 at a conference dedicated to men in nursing in Monterey, Calif. Patterson distributed 1,000 copies to colleges, high schools and AAMN board members and chapters across the country before ordering another 1,000 copies last year. He also posted the video on YouTube, where it has had more than 60,000 hits. Social media is “the easiest way to get to our young adults,” he said.

And he’s working on a sequel. His goal is to show the new video at the AAMN’s annual conference, “Men in Nursing: Partners and Leaders in Nursing’s Future,” in October in San Francisco. The videos allow men interested in nursing to learn more about the profession in an environment free of old stereotypes, such as that of men being doctors and not nurses, according to Patterson. “Male nurses are slowly becoming more acceptable,” he said. “The number of men is increasing enough that other men see it’s OK.”

At Bergen Regional Medical Center in Paramus, N.J., Rev. Benjamin Evans, RN, DD, DNP, APN, encourages male nursing students and connects them with a former male student who now has a management position. That nurse provides a positive example for the students, said Evans, the center’s associate vice president for behavioral health services.

Regardless of stereotypes, many men are drawn to nursing because of the mix of art, science and technology, said Cole Edmonson, RN, DNP, FACHE, NEA-BC, CNO and vice president of patient care services at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. Some have personal reasons for joining the field. As a high school student, Edmonson learned about the industry because of his father’s cancer diagnosis. “It became very clear to me that the role of the nurse was pivotal to the quality of care patients received, and critical to the patient’s outcomes,” he said.

Others are drawn by the job prospects and appreciate “the stability of the work, as nursing is a fairly recession-proof industry,” Edmonson added. “This lends itself to the ability to provide a good and stable income.”

But before they can start their careers, nurses have to pay for their education. Some men who are the breadwinners in their families are concerned about the cost, Patterson said. He assuages their fears by explaining the variety of scholarships available for nurses, including six $500 scholarships offered by the AAMN.
At a recent conference, several students came up to Patterson and asked for his business card. The men were eager to have a male role model who could discuss common experiences. “All of our role models have been female,” Patterson said, adding that the AAMN has a mentoring program to promote positive male role models.

The literature has historically shown that male nursing students have a high attrition rate, Lecher said. This is in part because female nursing faculty members are accustomed to teaching primarily women. But men have different learning, communication and team-member styles. “Sometimes we’re considered aggressive, but it’s more of a difference in style,” Lecher added.

In addition to the “20 x20” plan, the AAMN also is recruiting nursing schools that are willing to commit to raising their enrollment rate of male students to 30% in five years, Lecher said.

The difference that supporting students can make is clear at Monterey Peninsula College. The school previously had a high attrition rate of its nursing students who are male, so it formed a monthly discussion group, Patterson explained. There, experienced male RNs can share their experiences and expertise as well as answer specific practice questions — such as how to perform catheter care on a female patient — or ethical questions that concern RNs in general.
And, just like women, men have to be prepared for the rigors of the job. “You have to have a tough skin to be a nurse of any gender,” Coonan said.

Take two

Many men come to nursing after working at careers in other fields. Second degree or accelerated nursing programs for adults with degrees in other fields are recruiting men at twice the rate of BSN programs, Lecher said. This is because men who have already been in the workforce are older, more mature and less influenced by nursing stereotypes than are high school or college-age students, he added.

While talking recently to a class of students earning second degrees, Coonan discovered that “overwhelmingly, the majority say they hated their other jobs, especially the men.”

Coonan worked as a volunteer firefighter with an ambulance company before a friend suggested he go to nursing school. “Nursing wasn’t even on the radar” when he graduated from high school in 1972, he said. But when he entered the field, he enjoyed the hands-on experience of caring for patients.

Evans was in a high school seminary when he joined a community of nursing brothers and decided to become a nurse. “For me, it’s a calling; it’s not just a career,” he said. “You can take your nursing education and pretty much configure it any way you want.” •

For information on working with the AAMN to drive the enrollment of men in nursing to 30% in the next five years, visit, email aamn@aamn.org.


Karen Long is a freelance writer. Post a comment below or email specialty@Nurse.com.